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Founders, Be Like Brit Foundation and the Be Like Brit Orphanage in Grand Goâve, Haiti
When their 19-year-old daughter Britney was killed in Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake, Cherylann and Len Gengel responded in an extraordinary way, choosing to fulfill their beloved daughter’s dream of helping Haitian orphans. Britney had been in Haiti for just two days when she was buried with other victims in the rubble of her hotel, but she had already decided to devote her life to helping orphans there. Part of a group of students from Lynn University on a service trip, she had been effusive about her first visit to a Haitian orphanage, texting her mother this message: “They love us so much and everyone is so happy. They love what they have and they work so hard to get nowhere, yet they are all so appreciative. I want to move here and start an orphanage myself.”
Compelled to honor their remarkable daughter’s wishes, her parents founded “Be Like Brit,” a non-profit organization with a mission to serve the children of Haiti by establishing a safe, nurturing, earthquake-proof and sustainable orphanage. That orphanage, that has been built in Grand Goâve, Haiti, is an earthquake proof orphanage with the same seismic standards as San Francisco.
A contractor by profession, Len has described building the orphanage as “the greatest challenge in my homebuilding career ever.” President of C&S Builders in Holden, Massachusetts, Len founded his company in 1982. He has long been an active member of the surrounding community, supporting numerous charities, including the local D.A.R.E. program and Habitat for Humanity. Cherylann Gengel is a self-described former “stay-at-home mom” who now serves as treasurer of the Be Like Brit Foundation.
Harry M. Haidak Distinguished Professor emeritus
Founding chair, Department of Surgery at UMass Medical School
H. Brownell Wheeler, MD, renowned vascular surgeon, educator, administrator, inventor, and end-of-life care advocate, is the Harry M. Haidak Distinguished Professor of Surgery emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS). A 1952 graduate of Harvard Medical School, Dr. Wheeler completed his surgical training at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and the West Roxbury Veterans Administration Hospital. He was associate professor of surgery at Harvard and chief of surgery at the West Roxbury VA Hospital before joining UMMS.
Recruited as the founding chair of the UMMS Department of Surgery in 1971, Dr. Wheeler served in this position for the next 25 years. He also served as chief of staff of the University of Massachusetts Hospital for the two-year period when the hospital was staffed, equipped and opened for patient care. In 1984, he received the Distinguished Service Medal of the University of Massachusetts.
Dr. Wheeler’s principal professional interests include vascular surgery, deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, and medical education. He devoted the last part of his career to improving end-of- life care. Now in retirement, he has just completed a book based on this experience. It is scheduled for publication in July 2014.
A member of numerous professional societies, Dr. Wheeler served as a director of the American Board of Surgery and a governor of the American College of Surgeons. He also served as president of the Boston Surgical Society, the New England Surgical Society, the New England Society of Vascular Surgery and the Massachusetts Chapter of the American College of Surgeons. In 1990, he was selected to give the Centennial Shattuck Lecture to the Massachusetts Medical Society, and, in 2000, was named president of the Worcester District Medical Society.